A deceased woman’s last-minute will was ruled invalid after it was discovered that it was created by her church in an effort to secure her property for itself at the expense of her adopted children.
Pepe Pasetaria Matthes, a New Zealander who died last year, supposedly left $180,000 and a home in South Auckland to the Seventh-day Adventist Church, while her adopted children received nothing. Making matters more complicated, another $300,000 was taken from her account just weeks before her death.
A judge has now nullified the document.
A makeshift will prepared for an Auckland woman by the Seventh-Day Adventist Church has been rejected by a High Court judge.
Under the Wills Act 2007 the High Court could declare a [Personal Profile Document] valid if it showed “the deceased person’s testamentary intentions”, but in declining to validate it, Justice Davidson noted the lapse of time between its signing and her death, and her lack of follow up.
“That leaves me with very real doubt that the PPD remained her testamentary intent.
“I am not at all satisfied that it did, indeed to the contrary.”
If the church were able to succeed here, it would be a pretty terrifying precedent. The religious group prepared this PPD, which is not an officially certified will, then said she intended for the money to go to the church while leaving out her own children. If the $300,000 was taken by them as well, we have an even bigger issue. (It wouldn’t be the first time a church leader swindled someone out of her life savings.)
Matthes legally adopted three children: Pepe, Hazel, and Taumau. She informally adopted one more, Faamau Matthes, through an indigenous Polynesian tradition.
Despite the legal adoptions, the church and Matthes’ own brother — Tipo Kato — argued that the kids should get nothing. Kato also claimed he, and not Pepe and Haze, should be appointed as executor of her estate.
Kato claimed the adoptions were for the purpose of the children being able to live in New Zealand and the document indicated her relationship with her children was no longer.
Pastor Ian Royce from the Australian Union Conference of the Seventh-day Adventist Church prepared PPDs for 100 people in New Zealand, including Matthes, which was intended to be an interim measure until an official will was prepared.
Typically the church advised parents on the requirement of providing for their children and the possibility of them making a claim if left out, however it appeared to the pastor the relationship was distant and they wouldn’t expect an inheritance, the ruling said.
“The church does not otherwise encourage people to make large bequests to the church where there are children,” the pastor told the court.
From the pastor’s own mouth, we can see that the church is in the business of writing people’s wills and encouraging them to leave large amounts to the church. These people are often elderly, and in many cases are lacking the faculties to understand what’s going on. Without proper oversight, the church could get away with tricking old people out of their money that would otherwise go to their families.
It seems the church forgot, however, that seniors who are near death aren’t that reliable. Because Matthes never formalized the will despite three reminders sent by the church, the judge was convinced these weren’t her actual intentions.
While this may work out in her family’s favor, don’t forget the hundreds of others who had potentially flawed legal documents drawn up by a religious institution with a direct financial motive.
(Image via Shutterstock. Thanks to Bob for the link)